Jordanians rally to protest at slow pace of reform

Sat, Oct 6, 2012, 01:00

JORDANIANS STAGED their largest post-Arab Spring demonstration yesterday in central Amman in response to a call from the Islamic Action Front for a mass protest against the slow pace of change and the failure to curb corruption in the Hashemite Kingdom.

Demonstrators chanted “The people want to reform the regime”, rather than adopting the slogan of the Egyptian uprising, “The people want to end the regime.” Protesters also warned: “We demand constitutional reform before the people revolt.”

Some 10,000 people gathered after noon prayers outside the Hussein mosque to rally under the slogan “Save the Homeland”. However, the throng, which filled the square and the streets leading into it, did not reach 50,000, the target of the Front, the political wing of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

Secular groups joined the protest although the Front, Jordan’s largest and most influential opposition party, was the prime mover.

At least 2,000 police kept order. Potential clashes were avoided when regime loyalists cancelled a counter-demonstration at the request of the director of security, Hussein al-Majali, legislators and tribal chiefs.

Eight men said to have criminal records were arrested when they were found to be transporting weapons in minibuses bound for the location of the demonstration.

The Front and other opposition parties argue that recent constitutional changes do not go far enough and the new electoral law, adopted in July, favours Jordanians of tribal stock that support the regime at the expense of citizens of Palestinian origin, who account for 60 per cent of the population.

The law increased the number of seats in the lower house from 120 to 140, and provided for two votes: one for a local representative and one for national-level lists for political parties. But the lists were allocated only 17 seats.

Furthermore, the vote was granted for the first time to members of the security forces loyal to the king, ensuring that the balance of power in the new body will remain favourable to the king.

Critics of the regime also say corruption is rampant, demand that parliament and not the king should appoint the prime minister, and contend that the kingdom should be transformed into a constitutional monarchy.

On the eve of the demonstration, King Abdullah dismissed the unpopular parliament, forcing the cabinet to resign within a week and paving the way for the appointment of a new prime minister, the fifth since the Arab Spring began in December 2010.

The new election is expected to be held by the end of the year or early in 2013. The king and his supporters contend that this election is a major step in the ongoing evolutionary process of political reform. The role of parliament has been strengthened and the king has promised that the new lower house will have a say in the choice of premier. However, he retains the authority to name prime ministers and dismiss both governments and the legislature.

The Front has said it will boycott the election, depriving the new parliament of legitimacy and credibility.

Jordanian activists in both the secular and fundamentalist camps have been pressing for reform rather than regime change since the fall of the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt early in 2011.